Central America’s warmer climes provide the backdrop for some monumental parties with its cool beaches and unsurpassed backpacker scene. I fondly recall when I touched down in Costa Rica for the first time. Costa Rica Backpackers would be my temporary home, the place I met some of the most colourful characters I know to date, the first hostel I ever lodged at. The kitchen left a lot to be desired where cleanliness was concerned, but not wholly putrid enough to put me off hostels eternally. Fast forward three years, and I have stayed at enough hostels to earn Booking.com Genius status. A fair share of them have hosted the kind of parties you won’t be telling your grandkids about. Without further adieu, here they are.
1. Selina Bocas del Toro, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Waterfront hostel Selina is the busiest on the main island of Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro. If you’re travelling solo, this is probably the place to come to bolster your social calendar. Its central foyer has a large bar and restaurant where the super cool surfers-cum-bar staff appear to be having the time of their lives. Every room has all day air-conditioning and wifi strong enough to stream all your favourite shows from back home. They have a buffet breakfast everyday for $4 as well as a lovely lounge area and private dock for swimming – both great tonics for curing a hangover.
2. The Lazy Loft, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica
The hottest nightspot in Puerto Viejo is called Lazy Mon. The Lazy Loft beach hostel happens to be attached to Lazy Mon, making your commute home non-existent. For female travellers, this is a goldmine, as you don’t have to brave Puerto Viejo’s streets at night with all the full-time cat callers lurking about. Lazy Loft is smack on the Caribbean Sea and the bar downstairs blasts Bob Marley songs all day and all night. You’d be forgiven for thinking he was a brand new artist making waves in the charts. We be jamming.
3. Costa Rica Backpackers, San Jose, Costa Rica
Backpackers on the gringo trail won’t spend too much time in San Jose. It’s mainly a pit stop on the way to more picturesque destinations in the country, as all buses go through one of San Jose’s many bustling bus terminals. They will however, make the most of their one or two days acquainting themselves with other travellers with whom to carry on their travels. Costa Rica Backpackers stands out for having a pool, a garden, being excellently located and of course, the cornerstone of any party hostel: an in-house bar. The staff are pretty friendly too. I commenced my very first solo trip ever in San Jose and came to Costa Rica Backpackers. I had no idea what to expect and was frightened to death of being relegated to a life of eternal solitude. I needn’t have worried.
4. Mamallena’s, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Hostel Mamallena is a hostel chain and they have the best dock in Bocas in my humble opinion. People flock here more so in the early evenings attracted by their happy hour between 4pm and 8pm (two cocktails for $6 and national beers for $1.50) and the glistening sunset. There’s also a dare wheel – if you dare.
5. PachaMama, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Legendary pool crawl Sunday Funday takes place (you guessed it) every Sunday in this south Nicaraguan surf haven. PachaMama is the first port of call for the soiree and hostel guests get discounted tickets. PachaMama is THE place to be in SJDS on the weekend.
6. Luna’s Castle, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama
Luna’s castle is really the hub for all backpackers coming through Panama City and is just excellently located. When you stay here, you are a stone’s throw away from all the splendour of Panama city’s old town: Cinta Costera, the loveliest walkway along the water, cafes, gelaterias, the Mercado de Mariscos, and a dozen rooftop bars.
Luna’s Castle has it’s own bar downstairs called Relic, which becomes a swinging club frequented by Luna’s guests and locals alike on weekends. There’s a happy hour every night from 9-10pm where you can get your hands on a local for beer for the grand price of 50 cents. I have met so many people at Luna’s who I then travelled on with and still regard as friends for life.
View from Luna’s Castle’s sea view rooms
Free unlimited pancakes are yours for the taking at breakfast and towels are provided free of charge. There are hot showers and a kitchen that’s actually clean. You can even choose a dorm room with an ocean view, so the first thing that greets you (whenever you finally wake up) is that much gossiped about Panama City skyline. Luna’s Castle is set in a splendid Spanish Colonial building and each dorm bed comes with a fan, individual lamp and privacy curtain that might come in handy when party fatigue sets in. Book your stay here.
7. Aqua Lounge, Isla Carenero, Bocas del Toro, Panama
This hostel on the water’s edge is a party spot first, and hostel second. If you would still like a blissful night’s sleep, ask for a room right down at the very back of the joint so as to be sheltered from the main party racket. Aqua Lounge used to have a trampoline that you could bounce directly into the water from, but that has since been done away with. There is still however a tightrope and a raised jumping platform, which invites copious amounts of water play in this makeshift ocean pool. Heard of Filthy Friday, Central America’s first and only island crawl? Well, Aqua Lounge is the third and final stop of this all day blowout. Expect to get drenched, smashing DJ sets and dance circles. You might want to bring a waterproof camera.
And when you’re done partying…
To get away from the noise, check in to one of these fine establishments.
Spanish by The Sea, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama
This hostel is situated a little bit further away from the action of the Main Street of Isla Colon, but that adds to its charm. When you stay at Spanish by the Sea, you feel a sense of community unlike any other hostel in Bocas. You meet your tribe and find yourself having shared dinners and conversations over Cards Against Humanity. That sort of thing. It has a large, open (and clean) kitchen, which is one of the focal points of social interaction, as people will often cook together here. It’s a Spanish school as well as a hostel so there are lots of breakaway areas and desks for working. Some students have Spanish classes as early as 8am, so this is not quite the place to burn the midnight oil.
Monteverde Backpackers, Monteverde, Costa Rica
If you’re in the mood to party, you’re in for a surprise at Monteverde Backpackers. The lights are switched off in the common areas from 10pm and the security guard will literally reprimand you for being noisy and flash his torch in your face. You’ve been warned. There is however, a lovely communal kitchen where you may find Italians willing to cook for you – if you’re lucky.
Casa Oro Eco Hostel, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Sunday Funday? What Sunday Funday? It’s laidback vibes galore at this hostel, which organises shuttles for wave-worshippers to the surfing beaches of Hermosa, Maderas and Remanso each day as well as excursions to see nesting sea turtles. There is indeed a bar upstairs, but if you stay downstairs, this hostel is nowhere near as rowdy as PachaMama. Staying at Casa Oro is worthwhile for the free breakfast and yoga alone.